My roommate doesn’t watch soccer.
And so, he will often come into the living room when I’m watching and pitch me “ideas of how to make soccer worse.” Goalkeepers can run up the pitch and are allowed to be offside, there is a player on both teams riding a bike and holding a Polo mallet, both teams wear the same jerseys, and one team can send a player off on the other team, but the other team gets a goal for it. Those are some of his finest concepts, seriously.
They’re dumb, but he does it to get a laugh and it’s fun. However, one of them became a reality in Group C today. One of his ideas consists of making the field a “+” shape and having two games happening simultaneously. Each team plays only against one other team, but they can still impact the outcome of the other match by winning the ball or even scoring.
In a way, that’s what we got the pleasure of watching on Wednesday.
A goal for two nations: a chaotic end to Group C
If you’re a sicko like I am, you had both Mexico vs Saudi Arabia and Poland vs Argentina on two screens this afternoon. It was all to play for with all options available going into this final game. All four teams were gunning for two spots in the 2022 World Cup round of 16. This group has been nothing short of dramatic so far with Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina on the first matchday immediately transcending this group from the realm of normality.
A bonkers finish was inevitable.
The first half started out with former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny saving a huge penalty for Poland. That save did so much more than prevent Lionel Messi from giving Argentina the lead, it also ensured Poland retained their buffer over Mexico – who looked poised to take the lead over Saudi Arabia.
The second half would only add to the drama. Argentina scored early through Alexis Mac Allister which placed them at the top of the group while simultaneously reducing Poland’s buffer over the teams below. That gap shrunk even further when Mexico took a 47th-minute lead through Henry Martin.
With the two nations now level on points, a lot of us watching got a lesson in FIFA’s tiebreaker rules. Most of us know the first few: points, goal differential, and goals scored. After that, it gets weird. In the 57th and 67th minutes respectively, Mexico and Argentina both scored, setting both games at 2-0 and putting Poland and Mexico tied on points, goal differential, and goals scored. If those results held, Poland would advance because they’d received fewer yellow cards at the tournament. If you’ve never heard of that, fair enough, I hadn’t either. However, it did occur at the 2018 World Cup with Japan progressing into the knockouts at Senegal’s expense because of their superior fair play record.
If it went to ANOTHER tiebreaker, then one of the two teams would advance via random lots. Mexico and, by extension, Argentina HAD TO SCORE to maintain El Tri’s impressive streak of escaping the World Cup group stage.
As time ticked towards 90 minutes, Mexican and Polish fans watched two different matches with bated breath. The matches were 29.4 kilometres apart and yet, they were playing against each other. The green trim of the white kits of Saudi Arabia faded to red in the eyes of the Mexicans and Argentina’s atypical purple turned green in the eyes of the Poles.
Two matches, one game.
The epilogue was not without drama; Mexico thought they had done the impossible twice but both goals were ruled out before the euphoria of a winner could roar through the massive Mexican fanbase at the Lusail Iconic Stadium. At Stadium 974, Lautaro Martinez was through on goal for Mexi–, apologies, Argentina, but his tame effort rolled wide.
In the 95th minute, it was all on Mexico. Argentina had failed to extend their lead further. They had to do it themselves, but their moment never arrived. Instead, Salem Al-Dawsari sunk a dagger into the heart of El Tri as he poked home beyond World Cup stalwart Guillermo Ochoa.
Heartbreak for Mexico, elation for Poland. This is why we love this sport: two teams playing against each other against the odds, 29.4 kilometres apart.